THE LAST DAY OF THE SIXTIES – Part 2

Trout Fishing in America

Trout Fishing in America

“I WAKE UP JUST BEFORE THEY COME.”

 

(John reading from a book)

 

Richard Brautigan was born January 30th, 1935, in the Pacific Northwest. He was the author of eleven novels, ten volumes of poetry and two collections of short stories. He lived for many years in San Francisco and become a literary idol of the 1960s whose iconoclastic vision of American life caught the imagination of young people everywhere. Maybe you were around then? Maybe you even remember reading this:

     We’re staying with Pard and his girlfriend in this strange cabin above Mill Valley. They have rented a cabin for three months, June 15th to September 15th, for a hundred dollars. We are a funny bunch, all living here together.

 

     Pard was born of Okie parents in British Nigeria and came to America when he was two years old and was raised as a ranch kid in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

 

     He was a machine-gunner in the Second World War, against the Germans. He fought in France and Germany. Sergeant Pard. Then he came back from the war and went to some hick college in Idaho.

 

     After he graduated from college, he went to Paris and became an Existentialist. He had a photograph taken of Existentialism and himself sitting at a sidewalk café. Pard was wearing a beard and he looked as if he had a huge soul, with barely enough room in his body to contain it.

 

     Pard’s girlfriend is Jewish. Twenty-four years old, getting over a bad case of hepatitis, she kids Part about a nude photograph of her that has the possibility of appearing in Playboy Magazine. “There’s nothing to worry about,” she says. “If they use that photograph, it only means that 12,000,000 men will look at my boobs.” This is all very funny to her.

 

     What we eat is funny and what we drink is even more hilarious: turkeys, Gallo port, hot dogs, watermelons, Popeyes, salmon croquettes, frappes, Christian Brothers port, orange rye bread, cantaloupes, Popeyes, salads, cheese—booze, grup and Popeyes.

 

     We read books like The Thief’s Journal, Set This House on Fire and The Naked Lunch.

 

     Pard and his girlfriend sleep in the cabin and we sleep outside, under the apple tree, waking at dawn to stare out across San Francisco Bay and then we go back to sleep again and wake once more, this time for a very strange thing to happen, and then we go back to sleep after it has happened, and wake at sunrise to stare out across the bay.

 

     Afterwards we go back to sleep again and the sun rises steadily hour after hour, staying in the branches of a eucalyptus tree just a ways down the hill, keeping us cool and asleep and in the shade. At last the sun pours over the top of the tree and then we have to get up, the hot sun upon us.

 

     We go into the house and begin that two-hour yak-yak activity we call breakfast. We sit around and bring ourselves slowly back to consciousness, treating ourselves like fine pieces of china, and after we finish the last cup of the last cup of the last cup of coffee, it’s time to think about lunch or go to the Goodwill in Fairfax.

 

     One morning last week, part way through the dawn, I awoke under the apple tree, to hear a dog barking and the rapid sound of hoofs coming toward me. The millennium? An invasion of Russians all wearing deer feet?

 

     I opened my eyes and saw a deer running straight at me. It was a buck with large horns. There was a police dog chasing after it.

 

     Arfwowfuck! Noisepoundpoundpoundpoundpoundpound! POUND! POUND!

     The deer didn’t swerve away. He just kept running straight at me, long after he had seen me, a second or two had passed.

 

     Arfwowfuck! Noisepoundpoundpoundpoundpoundpound! POUND! POUND!

     I could have reached out and touched him when he went by.

 

     He ran around the house, circling the john, with the dog hot after him. They vanished over the hillside, leaving streamers of toilet paper behind them, flowing out and entangled through the bushes and vines.

 

     Then along came the doe. She started up the same way, but not moving as fast. Maybe she had strawberries in her head.

 

     “Whoa!” I shouted. “Enough is enough! I’m not selling newspapers!”

 

     The doe stopped in her tracks, twenty-five feet away and turned and went down around the eucalyptus tree.

 

     Well, that’s how it’s gone now for days and days. I wake up just before they come. I wake up for them in the same manner as I do for the dawn and the sunrise. Suddenly knowing they’re on their way.

 

HOW I DISCOVERED RICHARD BRAUTINGAN

 

I couldn’t hang out in the Army forever. For one thing, my wife back then couldn’t stand it. For another, I was curious about what was going on at home. We had some whitewashed accounts, but it was time to experience this for myself. The only practical way I could do that without money was to attend grad school on the GI Bill. What would I take? Anything I wanted, because I was going into high school education.

 

The school that hired me, Whitehall Michigan, was interesting. They had fired all their hippy teachers from the year before, and I couldn’t have been more surprised when, after my interview, they hired this guy with a foot long beard and shoulder length hair (My wife, infant son and I had been camping around Europe for a year after I was released from the service.) But here was the catch.

 

The kids at that school didn’t go on to college. Oh maybe one or two went to some kind of car-mechanic training or beautician school. So threat of poor grades or homework assignments or anything didn’t really carry weight. These students were there because their friends were and if they were going to learn anything it had better have some relevance to their life that day. Nathaniel Hawthorne, Thomas Jefferson, F. Scott Fitzgerald…forget it.

 

That’s when I xeroxed this poem by Richard Brautigan:

 

If I were to live my life

in catfish forms

in scaffolds of skin and whiskers

at the bottom of a pond

and you were to come by

     one evening

when the moon was shining

down into my dark home

and stand there at the edge

     of my affection

and think, “It’s beautiful

here by this pond. I wish

     somebody loved me,”

I’d love you and be your catfish

friend and drive such lonely

thoughts from your mind

and suddenly you would be

     at peace,

and ask yourself, “I wonder

if there are any catfish

in this pond? It seems like

a perfect place for them.”

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3 thoughts on “THE LAST DAY OF THE SIXTIES – Part 2

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